Online Sexual Violence, Child Pornography or Something Else Entirely? Police Responses to Non-Consensual Intimate Image Sharing among Youth

The sharing of intimate images by digital means is something that has created new issues for Canadians.  This is reflected in the creation of laws for non-consensual intimate image sharing or ‘revenge porn’ laws.  The issues get murkier when it comes to intimate images and youth as child pornography laws often also apply to the non-consensual sharing of these images as well.

The current environment is complex as on one had media reports and even police and government characterise non-consensual sharing of images among youth as child pornography and on the other is intent on the laws themselves, which were designed to reflect the abuse of power by adults in sexually exploiting children.

Online sexual violence creates unique challenges and particularly for law enforcement officers in how they respond. Police discretion is often the mediation point between tough laws and the complex range of situations to which it could be applied.  Alexa Dodge and Dale C. Spencer have shed some light on this space by drawing from 70 semi-structured interviews from across Canada to assess officers’ approaches and attitudes to this issue. Although Canadian laws for non-consensual intimate image sharing and child pornography can be applied to youth police can be reluctant to go down that road.

 

“Due to the harsh and stigmatizing nature of child pornography charges, many investigators express that they often use discretion to respond informally to cases of non- consensual intimate image sharing among youth.”

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Instead they may prefer to respond in ways that educate or use scare tactics to respond to these cases in ways that non-criminal.  Apart from feeling that the criminal options are overly harsh, the practice is seen as being commonplace and at a scale that would be difficult to respond to with their current resources.  Instead, options that focus on education and awareness are seen as more appropriate to respond to this behaviour.

This research reveals some interesting points about the current situation regarding youth, policing and sexual violence in Canada.  Police are currently in a position of having to exercise their discretion on a complicated and nuanced matter.  The outcomes for those involve can vary greatly depending on the officer.  Unfortunately, some police responses could be improved with more sex-positive responses and less shaming or blaming of victims. The police also appear to be under resourced to handle the processing of electronic evidence and performing technically demanding investigations.  The consequences of sexual violence for youth can have a devastating impact on their lives so it is important that we analyse how these cases are handled and how responses can be improved in the future.

 

This paper is a good read and worth your time if you are interested in this area or gaining insight into the challenges for responding to new cybercrimes.

 

Dodge, A., & Spencer, D. C. (2017). Online Sexual Violence, Child Pornography or Something Else Entirely? Police Responses to Non-Consensual Intimate Image Sharing among Youth. Social & Legal Studies, 0964663917724866.

 

 

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0964663917724866

 

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